Northumbria and the Farne Islands

Despite having been born within 90 minutes drive of Seahouses, I had never been to the Farne Islands until last week, when we took a short break at Spindrift B&B (Highly recommended).  On the way up, we called at Coquet Island off the coast near Amble to see the puffins, Arctic, Sandwich, Roseate and Common Terns that inhabit the island under the watch of the RSPB.  You can’t land on the island but the boat takes you as close as possible to the island and there are plenty of opportunities for photos of birds on the water or flying in and out of the island.

In Seahouses, we had booked a boat trip with the famous Billy Shiel on the day following our arrival, but typically, the morning weather was grim and there was no guarantee of a landing on Staple Island.  We cancelled, took a trip to Berwick and then returned to Beadnell for the afternoon.  About 1.5 miles south of Beadnell on the beach are colonies of Arctic and Little Terns, protected round the clock by National Trust wardens.  The walk down the beach and through the dunes is worthwhile with plenty to see.  You can’t take photos of Little Terns on the nest but, if you are patient, you can probably get a shot of one fishing in the river that flows into Beadnell Bay.  There were loads of butterflies near the dunes footpath and when we finally made it to the National Trust base, the Arctic Terns that nest in the dunes just in front of the hut provided endless entertainment.  The wardens have a telescope set up on the Little Tern nests which have been placed, invariably, on upturned crates provided by the wardens.  The simple but effective plan is that, if the tide threatens the nest, the wardens shift the crates further up the beach so the nest doesn’t get washed out.  The birds don’t seem to mind.

We took the short boat trip to the Farnes the following day and the weather was perfect. The Farne Islands are not just for birdwatchers and photographers.  The experience is one that just about anybody would enjoy.  Thousands of terns, guillemots and Puffins nest on Staple Island and Inner Farne and on the 6 hour birdwatchers trip, you get to land on both.  Many of the nests are right next to the footpaths so binoculars are hardly necessary.  However, a substantial hat is because the Arctic Terns are very defensive as many an unprepared tourist learned to their detriment.  Puffins were constantly flying into their burrows with their beaks full of sand eels and Black Headed Gulls were forever waiting to try and relieve them of their catch.  Terns were everywhere and guillemots, shags and Kittiwakes crowded the cliffs.  Actually, we were out for 7 hours but we could have stayed longer.  If you haven’t been, get off up there – with your hat…

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